10 Things You Should Never Do at a Downhill Mountain Bike Race
An essential guide to do's and don'ts that everyone who's raced downhill will recognise...
Words by Chris Moran | Lead photo by Simon Pilley
If there’s one message that’s gotten through from the relentless barrage of social media quotes and inspirational films, it’s that life would be a whole lot better if we put that Twix Xtra down, got off our fat arses, and went outside to actually do something.
So it was in that spirit that Mpora decided to take on the 2016 Hooper Hooner: a downhill mountain bike race held at the epic Tidworth Bike Park in Wiltshire. “It’s just for a laugh," said friend-of-Mpora and TBP local Alfie Bacon, “no-one takes it seriously, and all the jumps are either rollable or you can go around them."
"Riding a bike might be easy, but so is having a wank. Add 300 spectators though and it's suddenly a different matter."
Hmmm… it sounded too good to be true. So, how did we do? Yes we ate some donuts (it was freezing and you know, energy). Yes we won ‘best crash’ of the day (seriously)*. And yes, we came dead-last (those last two facts might be intertwined). But did we have fun? Fuck yeah.
And I’ll tell you something else for god-damned-certain too: it means we can talk from experience when we say that here are the Ten Things You Should Never Do in Your First Ever Mountain Bike Race.
*Scroll straight to number 8 if you wanna just see the crash.
1) Don’t Expect to Win
Though billed as a fun day out, the Hooper - like most races in the UK - is hotly contested, with pros dropping in to snag any cash, kudos or training opportunities. Not that the other competitors are likely to be slow either.
There’ll be dudes in their 50s who can tap into their inner Evil Knievel at any moment; women who might look like your mum but who pop doubles and nail rooty sections like they’re just off to Glenda’s for a coffee morning; and kids under ten who were literally born riding a full-suspension-set-up (by c-section, at Halfords, obvs). So yeah, turn up, enjoy the day, and aim for about second-to-last in the ‘shit’ category, if you have THE RUN OF A LIFETIME.
2) Do Expect to Fill Your Pants
Ok so you can ride a bike, and maybe do jumps, drops and wotnot. But to do them all together, in front of a crowd who’ve been warming themselves on mulled cider since sunrise, and yeah, expect your mouth to go dry and your pupils to turn into deep black saucers of fear.
For riding a bike might be easy, but so is having a wank. Add 300 spectators though and you’ve suddenly got an extra frisson of tension for either activity. And what’s more, a downhill race crowd is a wonderful group, but it’s also a mob that needs entertaining, and that means blood, gore, and watching dude after dude go over the handlebars. And no, that’s not a euphemism.
3) Don’t Just Turn Up On the Day and Have a Go
A friend used to say: “Piss-poor preparation prevents proper people from pucking pings up." Or something like that. In fairness it just sounded like he was stammering and I never really got past the first few words. But the point remains - go a day early, and have as many runs as you can squeeze into the practice sessions.
Because no-one ever failed because they’d tried too much. Except quicksand victims. But let’s not dwell on that. After ten goes, we just about memorised the course, working out where all the tough bits were, which lines to take which rocks we might be eating for lunch, and which trees we could realistically grab on to on the steeper sections. Not even joking either.
4) Don’t Expect to Not See Some Epic Riding
Apologies for the title, what we mean is - expect to see some great riding. Watching a pro tearing up a course that we - mere mortals - screech down with our brakes locked-out (with teeth grimacing under our full-face helmet) is an awesome sight.
"Watching a pro tearing up a course that we mere mortals screech down with our brakes locked out is an awesome sight."
Being course-side as Ben Deakin pedalled his Santa Cruz Bronson at full strength (yup, evening pedalling in the air) was like watching Planet Earth II last Sunday if there’d been a segment where David Attenborough narrated footage of your neighbour mating with your wife: utterly majestic, and yet - at the same time - somewhat demoralising.
5) Don’t Ignore The Spectators
Standing around all day in the November cold, watching mud-soaked rider after mud-soaked rider flail down a course can drag on a bit. So the crowd at a mountain bike event keep themselves warm and entertained by making as much noise as possible.
Some have old bike rims and handlebars, played like a triangle in a school band. Others clap and cheer. Some have chainsaws, loudspeakers, klaxons and those air-horns that reggae DJs use to hide a bad mix between tunes.
There are two main chants: “PEDAL! PEDAL! PEDAL!" and “GET BACK UP/ON!". Don’t ignore the crowd. Give them a wave, pedal hard, style a jump, or give them what they really want: a whince-inducing crash that makes them go “Ooooohhhhhh" and is the audio equivalent of someone peeking at something they shouldn’t through a gap in their own fingers. Raggamuffin.
6) Don’t Expect to be in your Comfort Zone
Even if you’ve watched a course preview on YouTube, don’t expect to be anywhere near your comfort zone. Like getting an invoice from a plumber, expect the actual run to be twice as scary as you thought, to take three times as long, and to be four times as steep as you expected.
And even if you are comfortable on gap jumps and coffin-drops, the adrenaline will kick in and you’ll be taking on the obstacles with more speed than you’d ever normally consider. Some of the sections may have features that you’ve never encountered before.
The Hooper course had a section called ‘Mini Morzine’. To get through it I had to ride with my bum scraping on the back wheel for more than a hundred metres, the seat of my kecks rubbing on the nodules of my maxxis tyres creating a sound not dissimilar to the fake motor-bike noise you can get by jamming some playing cards into the spokes of a Raleigh Grifter.
When the steepness calmed down my arse was virtually on fire and my entire back, shoulder, arm and finger muscles had seized up from gripping too hard. Which you don’t get at apres ski. The point being, what that has to do with Morzine is anyone’s guess.
7) Don’t Ignore the Tension
With a fair bit of waiting around to be done, strangers talk to one another about the best lines through sections, about their bikes, about the weather even. It may come across as camaraderie, but what everyone is trying to do is to ignore their fears. Hard to do when the sound of chainsaws is in your ears.
What to do about it? Nothing - enjoy it, recognise it, realise that this is how it must feel before a group goes into battle. Or shout “noggin" at everyone you see and give them a friendly headbutt with your full-face helmet on. Especially the race marshals. They love that.
8) Don’t Hit The Brakes at Crucial Moments
Let’s face facts: Mountain Biking is basically a massive list of counter-intuitive movements and actions. When you want to get in the air, push down and compress; when you want to go down steeper stuff, push the front of the bike away; when you want to go over a drop do a little jump; and when you want to brake, don’t.
It’s the last one that’s the most important. Just never brake. Ever. We’re not even sure why bikes actually have brakes. Ok they’re there. Just don’t ever use them. Especially don’t jam that back one on just as you’re going over the coffin drop.
Or else expect to go nose-first into some serious trouble - like Zlatan Ibrahamovic leading the group into the strip club at Wayne Rooney's stag do. You know he likes grannies Zlatan, so you should know that statistically it's unlikely to end well.
9) Don’t Try to Fight Your Nerves
Adrenaline is a naturally-produced high, there to help the mind and body overcome fear when a potentially dangerous situation looms on the horizon. Don’t try to fight what is a natural response to the race and the dangers within.
Instead, feel the full force of your adrenal gland as it pumps epinephrine into your blood stream, causing your heart beat to increase, your alpha receptors to sit up straight, and your blood sugar to slam that cheeky bottle of whiskey back into the draw and to pretend like it was doing some serious spreadsheet work when you popped by. In short, accept the fear, and ride the dragon.
Alternatively, make some utterly feeble excuse about going to get a sachet of sugar for you tea, miss your start gate and spend the rest of the day pretending to be ‘gutted’ that you didn’t get a chance to hit the course.
10) Don't Expect Not To Want to Do It Again
Would we do it again? Well since our motto is ‘Never Say Never’ (which incidentally is a phrase that is 66% contradiction, and certainly a command that would elicit the ‘error’ sign if it were inputted into a spreadsheet cell as a format) let us just say that we are very much open to the idea of heading back to Tidworth for the 2017 race.
However, that is not a binding contract, and we reserve the right to check our sugar sachet levels at crucial decision moments in the run up to next year's race…